Saturday, November 04, 2006

[Event] today's UCLA Extension "workshop"

Hi folks!

Along with at least 10 other bloggers who identified themselves as such, I attended today's UCLA Food Writing "workshop".

I'm wondering if any of you who were there were put off by the amount of dissing that blogs took from the journos and other panelists. I was particularly peeved by Katie O'Kennedy from Bon Appetit discouraging newbies from starting blogs: I believe the quote was something like "When you blog, you only have yourself as a critic, and that's a dangerous proposition." And slightly less so, by Russ Parsons of the LA Times disagreeing with statements about the value of blogging as a way to generate clips and/or keep your writing chops tuned up. Feeling threatend by new media, o ye pros?

I found all of this highly ironic considering that they spent 10 minutes discussing Julie Powell at the beginning of the session, talking about how her blog was her springboard.

I was also more than a little put off by the fact that this course was billed as a workshop, and yet no actual *work* happened. I guess I didn't have a reasonable expectation of homework or critiques in a 1-day course, but I guess I did at least think that we'd be asked to write something brief in class, and then tweak it later using the tips and hints we'd been given. I was glad to have the chance to hear some interesting stories, and to meet some of you in person (Hi Erin, Jennifer, and Jeanne!) but I came away pretty peeved that I paid $130 for so little useful stuff. Oh, and many of the experts listed in the course catalog weren't anywhere to be found.

Most of the panelists were interesting, but I guess I would have been happier if the class had been billed as a panel, a seminar, or a Q&A session rather than a workshop.

This Post was written by Anita from Married ...with Dinner


Erin S. said...

I second Anita's critiques--the panelists practically wrinkled their noses at the sound of the word "blog." Their comments sounded both defensive and as though they didn't really get/read/understand food blogs. I think most of us at food blog s'cool could list a slew of fellow foodbloggers that have springboarded to some kind of paid writing gig.

The most valuable part of my day was getting to have lunch with/talk to/share ideas with the other foodbloggers in attendence! I did pick up a few tips during the panels and got some new ideas, but not $130 worth.

Apologies to Anita and others, as I was the one who posted this class on food blog s'cool in the first place!

Derrick said...

Well, I agree about the value of an editor, though are they saying they can't write well without one? I got my first paid writing gig by submitting writing samples: 1 from my blog, 1 from a class I took. And my writing was much looser at the time (again, the value of an editor).

I'm sure there's some annoyance at the constant press we get. When was the last time you saw an article about Russ Parsons? (who is, by the way, a great writer). And the Julie Powell story must frost them like little else. A six-figure book deal from a personal blog? And her first book deal at that? There's little precedent for that.

Regina Schrambling recently attended the gala, and commented on how nice it was to see so much passion, as opposed to the old fogies in the pro food writing universe (of which she's also a member). See

Too bad the workshop wasn't very helpful. I agree that "workshop" implies hands-on work.

Jocelyn:McAuliflower said...

Mmm- I dare you all to ask for your money back.

Guess what fellow food bloggers... corporate media is working their jealousy into some mighty bitter tools.

Related to diminishing the power of food bloggers: check out Yahoo Food and notice the lack of any subjective sources in their search returns. For extra credit compare return results from Yahoo Food to regular Yahoo.

This will blossom into its own Food S'cool post when I'm sober :)


Rachael Narins said...
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Anonymous said...

I have some mixed thoughts about the day. I was disappointed that Evan Kleinman wasn't there--as I'd love to have met her. What I did get out of the expeirence was the networking with those that have had success in non-traditional outlets such as ghost writing and trade writing.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

McA, I actually am going to ask for a refund, based on the non-workshop-ness and the missing panelists. Don't get me wrong: I'm having a blast being here in L.A. (lots of good blog-fodder meals!) but the false advertising really frosts me, coming from UC.

Derrick, as a professional editor, I wholeheartedly agree about the value of an editor. But as a first step, it's equally valuable to practice, practice practice. Plus, blogging gives me a window into a writer's raw talent, as opposed to published clips that may actually show how skilled their editor is.

Derrick said...


You make an excellent point. You'd think editors would _want_ to see a writer's raw prose so that they know what to expect. I'm astonished that there are still those who assume "blog" automatically equals "narcissistic diary." Some are, some aren't, but the space is so large that you can't give one generic summary of it.

KT said...

I was there too ... and it was very nice to meet Erin and others. I am kind of shy, so sorry to the people I didn't talk to.

It certainly wasn't what I was expecting ... I thought there would be more about actual writing technique and was kind of bored by all the "send me a hard copy pitch, not an e-mail" stuff, since I'm not trying to be a freelance writer, just trying to learn more about writing about food.

I was also disappointed by the fact that Evan Kleiman wasn't there and no mention was made of why not. I was mostly going to see here and Russ Parsons.

I wasn't too put off by all the blog stuff. I think it is true that trying to become a professional writer solely by keeping a blog is kind of like trying to become an actor by being on a reality show. It's possible, but the chances are really not good. I think a blog is a great way to practice writing, like they said, but most people aren't going to get a book deal out of it unless you're something pretty special.

I actually liked the afternoon panel a lot more than the morning, mostly because I learned a lot about aspects of the food media industry I hadn't known much about before, like food styling and writing cookbooks and culinary history. I have no professional interest in any of that but I am a curious person who loves to learn and from that standpoint I felt like I got money's worth out of the second half of the day.

I honestly didn't care about what the panelists think of blogs because my blog is primarily a personal record of my attempts to educate myself about food and is not meant to impress them or anyone else. I love the way blogs bring people together in discussion and form a sort of community, but I'm under no illusions that this is my ticket to fame and fortune. And I knwo for a fact that my blog does not reflect my best writing, since I simply to not have the time to deliberate over my blog posts the way I would a piece of writing I was getting paid for.

Rachael Narins said...

For the record, my blog is indeed a "narcissistic diary" and will remain, proudly so, until I decide otherwise.


Jennifer Maiser said...

Interesting comments, all. I was there too. For me, I guess it was more of a reality check that there still is mainstream media out there that thinks the way the panelists did about blogs in general. I had started to delude myself into thinking we'd moved beyond this.

I found myself wishing that blogs weren't being painted with quite such a broad brush. There are people that fit into their broad generalizations, and people that don't. But if I want to be published, then I need to learn to play their game -- not the other way around.

Just my .02. I guess everyone had different experiences.

Anonymous said...

I was planning on signing up for the workshop, but had misgivings at the last moment for the very reason described by some of you- the snobbery of the food writing community.

I actually have two strikes against me- I blog, and I write about food almost exclusively from a pop cultural/anthropoligcal perspective.

I'm finding that most editors and many foodies don't want to read about artists who make plush meat cuddlers. They want to read, instead, about celebrity chefs, how to poach salmon, and what to eat in Oaxaca.

I'm sorry for the rest of you that my instincts were right. And Evan Kleiman would have been the main reason I would have gone.

I'd love to see a food blogging workshop in L.A. I wouldn't even be surprised if Russ Parsons and the Bon Appetit editors showed up to get "s'cooled."

Willa Frank said...

You know, what's really funny to me is how many newspaper writers are blogging (for their newspapers) now! With sales of newspapers down and more people reading the web versions, so goes the pitiful amount of space for most writers--that is, before they simply disappear. The Cincinnati Enquirer (a Gannett paper) has been systematically migrating their writers to blogging longer articles, sometimes pre-edits, and offering longer so-called "think pieces" on the blogs where readers can actually offer comments, instead of writing letters to the editor and having next to no chance of getting them published without major cutting for space. To my dismay, they just started offering a super-lame "Foodie" blog last week. Bleh.

Maybe if the magazine writers on that UCLA panel felt more of the financial realities that are hitting the other side of print world, they wouldn't be so dismissive. And if the publishing world hadn't bought into this bidding war mess in general, that Julie and Julia book wouldn't have achieved such a ridiculous offer for a first book--and how that potentially affects everybody else when and if it fails.

Erin S. said...

I agree with a lot of KT's comments--my blog's for fun; I love my non-food-related day job, and I have no illusions about becoming the next NYT food critic. However, I think that's why I was so frustrated with the day--just because my blog's for fun doesn't mean I don't want to become better at writing about food. And the workshop offered very little of that.

As a side note--did any of the other attendees find the Modern Luxury guy hilarious? Oh yes, yesterday I was in Bangkok, last week I was in Tuscany, the day before that in Monte Carlo, oh, and don't forget about Marrekech. Even with the dengue fever, I don't feel too sorry for him.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

i'm right there with you, Erin. I don't need to know how to become a professional food writer. But I definitely would have liked to learn how to become a better amateur.

Neither do I need to learn how to pitch editors, or craft a cookbook proposal -- I'm already a published author in my professional life.

I don't ever expect to make money at food writing, and the blog's not a springboard to something bigger. But I did really crave some direction about ways to improve my methods.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...
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Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Ok, sorry to monopolize the conversation...

I just spoke with Helene from the Journalism department at UCLA Extension. After she was done being defensive, she told me to fax a refund to the UCLA Extension Refund Committee (fax 310-825-1439), and they would consider my comments.

Anonymous said...

harrumph, or some such thing. rachael n sent me this link; i hope my replying isn't inappropriate.

i'm sorry my comments about bloggers were misinterpreted. my understanding of the panel--limited as it was--was that it was for people who wanted to become professional food writers. as such, of course, blogs are a great way to get your chops together and to get your first clips, but they're terrible ways to make a living. i'm sure i never said anything to the contrary, but i'm sorry if i gave that impression.

that said, i have to admit that i do find most blogs disappointing. there are exceptions--julie powell, pim, wednesday chef, max withers are all on my bookmarks. and far from being chagrined by their success, i'm quite pleased by them (as far as i know, i wrote the first profile of julie way back when). i'm hardly a newcomer to writing online, i've been involved in online communities since the late '80s when i edited a prodigy bulletin board on food. good writing is good writing, no matter where it appears. Unfortunately, the same thing goes for bad writing--except that when you blog there are no editors to save you from yourself.

also, i'll admit that i share your disappointment in the panel i was on. i've taught at ucla extension before as well as at the culinary institute and at the greenbrier symposium and i'm much happier talking about the nuts and bolts of writing than i am giving 20 minutes on how to build a career.

Anonymous said...

doggone it, sorry, i had tried to atach my id but apparently it didn't work.

Derrick said...


Thanks for adding your comments. It's nice to hear the other side of the story (especially for someone who wasn't there).

But I had to laugh at this comment re blogs "they're terrible ways to make a living"

Isn't the same true of food writing in general?

Owen said...

Russ - kudos for showing up and replying.

I admit that I wouldn't have gone to the panel even if I were in LA - I've had a bellyful of professional writing this'n'that in my life and am prepared to stack up my paychecks from professional writing against anyone. I've made a good living at it for 25 years now. But not at food writing. And I'm happy to keep my food writing -such as it is - more like food note taking - at a very low level.

But I like blogging and I like the immediacy and community - that you don't get in other formats. I think a lot of outsiders see a storm of negativity in blogs because of the high profile of political blogs that are full of negativity. But the food blog community is incredibly supportive. We all know that blogging is not the same as writing and both have nothing much to do with food and cooking skills.

And while it is great to see recognition for food blogs in the form of Julie's success, I have to say that I could have pointed to several more interesting and talented food bloggers with a lot more valuable things to say. On the other hand, her odyssey is a lot easier to turn in to a book than some others.

Bottom line - I DO think many mainstream writers and journalists have a BIG chip on their shoulder's about bloggers - but I think they are getting it wrong. Most bloggers are highly envious of mainstream writers - they don't see blogging as detracting from any other formats but simply adding a new one. But blogging is different and some writers dismiss it all too easily - it is NOT the same as regular writing and being good at one does NOT automatically make you good at the other. I'm a case in point. I like to think I'm a good writer - at least in the high tech business/enterprise field - but I'm actually a pretty average to poor blogger.

Having said all that - I do think that the attendees may have been hasty in dismissing the whole program - yes it doesn't sound like a workshop - but most writing programs include a fair amount of this kind of thing.

Rachael Narins said...

I wonder, for the people who sat there all day...if you WERE an aspiring professional food writer (a segment who, the workshop was supposedly intended for) did that get covered very well?

I mean, one reason I didnt spend the money to attend, was that I realized ahead of time that it would be for those folks more than for a girl who just writes about food for fun and with no plans to get paid...but did they address people who DO want to be pro writers?

If SO, asking for a refund doesnt seem right...right?

Anonymous said...

the relationship between journalists and bloggers is complicated (and far from uniform, so take all this with a grain of salt). For most of us who have been doing it for very long, the idea of writing something without getting paid (including, as a matter of fact, this)is a bit mysterious. Even questionable.

But I do have to say that on the whole, most journalists just don't think about bloggers very much at all, as long as we're not actively being gored by them. We're neither for them nor against them. It kind of reminds me of moving to Texas after having lived in New Mexico for a long time. The rivalry is very bitter and people in New Mexican hate Texans almost as a birthright. they're noisy and rude and clog up the streets in Santa Fe. So I was expecting a lot of the same when I moved to Texas. What I found was most Texans never gave New Mexico a thought, and when they did, they thought we were kinda, I don't know, cute or something. It was humiliating.

Anonymous said...

Hi all - I came to this post kind of late in the game, but wanted to comment on a couple things from the class:

1: Nice meeting those of you who i met! I have to say i was both humbled and very excited by the varying credentials and interests among the students. I'm sad I couldn't sit down for a conversation with so many people in the class!

2: Russ, thanks very much for responding here! I have to say, overall, I got what I was expecting from the day: some inspiration from people like yourself who are making it happen on a regular basis and continue to be excited by their work (your comment on how your work feeds both your endless curiousity and short attention span was particularly striking for me), some solid 'tough love' advice on how the industry of food writing works, and specific resources on community, networking, etc.

2: I too was a little disappointed by the lack of Evan Kleiman, but I figure hers is just one experience, and we got a handful of other accounts, so it evened it out for me.

3: About the blog discourse, it doesn't bother me that much. Again, it did seem like this course leaned heavily toward industry. I often have to remind myself that as fun as blogging is for me (and it is. I can sit at the computer writing, researching, revising, for hours (and I do!)), it does not in its current state pay the bills. As an industry, it's just at the beginning of its growth, and I don't expect a course on food writing to have it on the radar just yet.

4: My one beef: I felt that the the food photographer's segment, while admittedly gorgeous, seemed like an extended advertisement for his business. It seemed only marginally relevant to the course, and between the low-res news segment and the publicity kits handed out, I felt like I was being pitched, despite having paid to be there.

5: And finally, Erin, no need to apologize! Thanks very much for letting us know that this class existed. Whether or not we attended was solely our choice.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Rachael asked:

>>if you WERE an aspiring professional food writer (a segment who, the workshop was supposedly intended for) did that get covered very well? <<

Not very well. It was a lot of time spent on student intros, too much time spent on Q&A, and not really much of any instruction at all.

And it still wasn't a workshop.

And two of the panelists were AWOL with no apology or explanation.

So I don't feel bad at all about asking for a refund.

Russ, I'm sorry you feel your remarks were taken out of context, but given that we all -- to a greater or lesser extent -- misinterpreted them similarly, I wonder if perhaps you might have misspoken. In any case, it's great to have your first-hand remarks here.

I also agree with Tannaz re: the the food prohotography section, and I mentioned that to the refund committee, as well.

nika said...

In the immortal if not terribly sophisticated words of Rodney King "Why cant we all just get along?"

What is this "tension" between food bloggers and MSM food writers.

Can there be tension if its just on one side?

Why do I say that?

Cuz I am not feeling any tension, I dont need nor look for appreciation or validation from MSM food writers. Why do they feel the need to compete with the blog concept.

Honestly, are there polls or editors out there that honestly suggest that food blogs are a threat to MSM food writers?

I think its just a matter of verbal effluvia for the purpose of chiming in on the latest trend, even tho the effluvia-spouter may not even understand what they are talking about.

In other words, everyone seems to have to have an opinion to come off "in the know". More often than not, they havent a clue.

And how tired are you that "in the know" MSM writers always reference the same few blogs as if there is some uber-consensus on the kewl blog 'o the moment.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm jumping into this so late in the game. I echo Russ's comments in that I'm sorry you didn't feel like you got very much out of the panel. I would like to say, though, that I feel my comments were misrepresented and misunderstood. I think that blogging is a great way to practice your writing, make a name for yourself, and expand your knowledge of and passion for the topic of food. I also think that blogs have made a significant contribution to the world of food writing. My criticism of blogging was that it may not help you become a better writer. Criticism from a mentor or another writer or editor you admire is very constructive, as is having your ideas and writing rejected from time to time, and I don't know that that happens with blogging. Again, I'm sorry I was misunderstood and that you didn't get as much out of the day as you had hoped.